“what gets measured gets managed.”
That’s a quote from a guy named Peter Drucker. It’s most typically applied in the world of business and marketing, but it can easily be applied to any aspect of your life that you would like to improve.
For our purposes today, let’s apply it to weight loss.
In short, the things you keep close track of are what get your attention and effort. When you monitor and track and act with intention, you are much more likely to get the results you’re after.
Whenever someone asks me about not being able lose weight, the first thing I want to (gently) ask is “are you counting your calories?”
Not out of judgement or to criticize – but because I’ve been there. More than once.
And 9 times out of 10, the answer to the calorie counting question is No.
In all my weight loss attempts before 2008, I never counted my calories. I worked out and ate in a way that I believed was healthy. And then I would stand on the scale scratching (banging) my head wondering why it wasn’t telling me what I wanted it to say.
Once I started tracking my food intake, I finally got results that lead to weight loss success.
Now believe me, I get it. People groan and want to bury their head in the sand when they think about calorie counting. (myself included!) I spent the second half of last year and the first few months of 2011 working to lose the 10 or so pounds I gained early in 2010 – a year that started off a bit rough and brought a fair share of emotional eating along with it. I tried everything and anything to avoid counting calories. From eating less grains to reducing my sugar intake to intermittent fasting. I don’t want to count calories! I want to just EAT good food and not worry about it!
Well that’s all fine and dandy when it comes to maintaining my weight (umm, once I got a grip on running to the fridge when I was stressed at least). And don’t get me wrong – less sugar, less grains and creating some new habits when it comes to eating after dinner have done wonders for me in more ways than one. Weight loss included. But if you’re tired of being at the weight you’re currently at and want to be smaller – you’ve got to measure your progress in order to manage it.
Once I start keeping a close eye on my calorie intake, the weight comes off. I don’t know why I wait so long to go there – it ALWAYS works.
if you want increase your odds at being successful, measure your progress.
You might not even need to count your calories. I’m sure there are some of you out there who could lose weight without paying so much attention to detail. Maybe a food journal without watching the numbers is all you need for a little accountability. Maybe all you need to do is start weighing yourself every day and paying closer attention to what the numbers do over time.
But if you are struggling or the weight isn’t coming off as fast as you would like, then I highly suggest keeping track of your calorie intake for one week (or even one day!) to see what it looks like. (There are plenty of ways to do this, but The Daily Plate is what I use and it makes it very easy.)
What have you discovered? Do you end up with calorie deficit each week? Where are extra calories sneaking in? Do you realize how quickly those calories from that generous spoonful of almond butter on your oats add up, Alison? (crap.)
Yes, it can be tedious. Yes, it might feel like a giant pain the ass. But how important is this to you? How badly do you want it? That’s a real question, because maybe you don’t care that much – and that’s totally fine. But for those of you do? It can very well be worth the effort.
The time is going to pass either way. What if you could emerge at some future point down the road in a smaller body that you feel amazing in? It’s totally possible, and it doesn’t have to be torture. In fact, once you get into the swing of it, you’ll likely find that it’s not a big deal at all. The anticipation of it is usually worse than finally sitting down to actually do it. And I can tell you that once you see that it’s working, sticking with it gets incredibly easy.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you won’t have to do it forever. You might not even have to do it for long! You just need to do it long enough to give you some awareness. To help you eat more mindfully and see the difference the right foods can make in terms of how you feel while you’re losing weight.
The weight is not going to magically fall off. You have to do something different. If you’re not keeping track of what you’re doing, it’s really hard to see exactly what behaviors you need to change in order to get the results you want. You have to see where you’re going wrong so you can start to go right. Keeping track of the factors that play a role in weight loss is the best way to do that.
Over the course of the next three Fridays, I’ll write more about my experience with these tracking techniques and how they worked for me and how they might work for you. I fully recognize that it’s not as simple as just counting calories or jotting down how long your work out was on any given day. I want to delve a bit more deeply into each of these areas and plan to dedicate an entire post to each topic.
think of tracking as a tool.
We need tools to achieve our goals. You can’t build a house without tools. I need my computer and WordPress to write this post. You need a vise and a rubber mallet to get black walnuts open. Most people use some form of transportation to get work or school, another tool! And then we use a variety of different tools to get work done once we’re there.
A tool can be anything from a screwdriver to your sneakers to a book that teaches you something you didn’t know. Real, lasting weight loss is not fast or easy, but it’s not impossible either. Tracking might be just the tool you need to get the body that you want.
after the weight loss.
I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that some people struggle with letting go of calorie counting or getting on the scale regularly after they’ve reached their goals. It can start to feel like a crutch. You might begin to feel that if you stop paying attention, the weight will come back on when you’re not looking.
I’ve struggled with this myself. I know how easily tracking can spiral into something you obsess over. I’ve had to put the scale away for while or not immediately replace it after it’s been ruined by splashy, teeth brushing children. When I find that my mood is unnecessarily being affected by what the scale flashes back at me – that’s how I know it’s time to take a break and step away for a while.
But if you’ve got a goal in mind and you’re working toward something that at times feels impossible, let those mood swings be a part of your personal evolution. I am a different person now than I was before my initial weight loss. Losing weight was a journey – it does not happen without some fundamental changes in who you are right now.
It also doesn’t happen without effort and hard work. I’m not even talking about exercise here. Effort in the form of educating yourself and doing some research and reading. The work it takes to pay attention to the foods you eat and the reasons you choose to eat and buy what you do. The effort in finding and relating to others on a similar journey. The tough, tough stuff it takes to dig deep and figure out where your issues with food come from and getting to the root of self destructive behavior that is holding you back so you can start to work past it.
And most important of all – the work it takes to learn how to love and accept yourself for who you are, despite the numbers on the scale or the digits printed on the tag in your jeans. That’s not something weight loss can teach you, but it might be something you learn along the way.
when you’re doing everything right.
If you’re counting calories and staying active but nothing seems to be happening – then it might be time to speak to your health care provider and find out if something else is going on. I am NOT a health professional – but I’ve learned a lot from the books and studies I’ve read, I’ve devoured plenty of information from trustworthy sources and know that what worked for me was not a fluke.
I am eager to share more about what I’ve done because I believe it can work for you too. Whether you eat junk food or the best foods available on our planet – for most of us, weight loss comes down the math equation that is calories in < calories out.
I say “most of us” because I know metabolic disorders exist and can keep people from losing weight. But before you use that as an excuse and assume that’s what going on – find out for sure! Don’t throw your hands in the air and collapse into a heap on the ground and give up because you believe something must be wrong with you.
Be honest with yourself about how religious you’ve been about keeping track of everything and that you really ARE doing what you believe to be right. Trust your instincts. If you feel something isn’t right, by all means, get thee to an endocrinologist.
I’d also like to give the disclaimer that this post is for people who truly need and want to lose weight. This is not for those of you who might be struggling with an eating disorder. PLEASE seek professional help if you are underweight or feel that you have an unhealthy preoccupation with food and eating (or not eating).
one last disclaimer.
What I’ve written here (or any post for that matter) is for informational purposes only. This is what I’ve learned in my own experience. We are all responsible for our own health and I fully recognize that different things work for different people. I like to share what I’ve done and what’s worked for me because I hope it might help you on your journey. Maybe it will show you what you don’t want to do! Perfect! One more possible solution to rule out and cross off your list.
And please, don’t take my word on any of this. When in doubt, please do your own research and educate yourself. Don’t try anything that doesn’t feel safe or right to you.
Next Friday I’ll write more about food journaling and calorie counting. Until then, it’ll be the usual fruit and vegetable madness.